The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

ON LAWS AND COURTESY

 When I started college in the mid-60’s, I moved from New York City to Chicago. Frankly, it felt to me as though I had moved 900 miles and two centuries. In many ways, Chicago was still the pioneer prairie town – though at that time it still held sway as America’s second largest city as measured by population.

 It was in Chicago that I discovered the existence of “blue laws”. These were legislative enactments that probably had some value when they were first passed – but the tradition of keeping them on the books had far outweighed their usefulness.

 Allow me to cite a few examples:

 You couldn’t get a haircut on Mondays. That was something that the barber’s union had accomplished. How this benefited the barbers wasn’t then and isn’t now clear to me – but if it was Monday, you couldn’t get your locks shorn.

 You couldn’t buy meat after 7:00 p.m. Yes, there it was, sitting in the case (which was covered with heavy plastic wrap) but it was illegal for the store to let you pick it up and check out with it. This was something that the butcher’s union had achieved. How this benefited the butchers was a mystery to me then and is still today.

 But, of course, the grandaddy of all the blue laws was that “on days when members of the General Assembly stood for election, during the time the polls were open, it was illegal to purchase liquor – either at a liquor store, a restaurant or bar.” As I became more familiar with Illinois politics, the absolute absurdity of this law made me laugh. When you considered the old political hacks who were constantly re-elected to the General Assembly, the only way a person of insight and conscience could possibly consider voting for them was if he or she were totally inebriated!

 Well, those were a few of the blue laws which I encountered. I’m sure that throughout the various states, there are many that are equally absurd that are still on the books.

 Nonetheless, there are some laws which have been passed which make a great deal of sense – at least to me. Let’s consider some of those – as they relate to driving.

 Growing up in Manhattan, I wasn’t even eligible to get a driving learner’s permit until I was 17. And at 17 I had moved to Chicago for school. Dad had sold the car years before, tired of spending an hour a night looking for a legal space to park. (Manhattan had alternate side of the street parking – presumably to allow for street cleaning – so moving the car every other night was an evening ritual when my father came home from work).

So I was 20 when I enrolled in a driving school and learned to drive.

 Both my instructor and the official Illinois DMV “Rules of the Road” publication mentioned one thing over and over. “Driving is a privilige – not a right.” As a result, I was constantly reminded to stay within the posted speed limit, to use my mirrors to make sure that it was safe to change lanes and always to indicate that intention by either using hand signals (which were common in those days) or using the vehicle’s turn signal indicators. Those were good rules – or “laws” if you will – which I still observe today.

 The result – I have never been ticketed for speeding and have never been at fault in an accident. To me, staying within the speed limit and signaling lane changes is part of enjoying my “driving privilige”. Would that it were so with other drivers!

 For the last several years I have insured my car with Progressive. (You know Flo). I enrolled in their “My Rate” program – intended to reward drivers who utilize their vehicles in a safe manner. The program is completely voluntary – but I felt confident that I could receive a rate reduction by participating. And I did earn their maximum 25% discount.

 Now consider this. My discount is based on my performance relative only to those other drivers who are participating in the program – not the general population of drivers. In other words, my performance is being compared only to drivers who also feel that they are entitled to a discount based on what they perceive their driving performance to be. The fact is that if the entire population were compelled to have their driving evaluated – I truly believe that I would (and should) be paying less than 25% of my current insurance cost – and drivers who drive in an irresponsible manner would be paying two or three times the amount they are currently being charged.

 If you want to see an encapsulation of bad driving – come to Las Vegas! When I lived in Chicago, everyone knew that that the city derived a significant amount of income from issuing traffic violations. It was a part of Chicago’s annual budget. But enforcement of the traffic laws – though sometimes abused by the police – made us conscious of the fact that those laws were there and a penalty would be paid for violating them. The net result was that we reduced the number of accidents and fatalities and enjoyed fairly low auto insurance premiums.

 In Las Vegas there is very little enforcement of traffic regulations – despite the fact that we have one of the highest paid police forces in the country. (One can only wonder what they do with their time since there are only a handful of Dunkin’ Donuts in the city).

 There seems – perhaps because of the educational system – to be some confusion about the meaning of the term “speed limit”. Most drivers apparently confuse “limit” with “suggested minimum”. If motorists are aware of the fact that their vehicles are equipped with turn signals they respond in one of two manners. First, they ignore the fact and never use them. Second, they turn them on and leave them on with the idea that at some point in the next several days, they may be turning in that direction. And, of course, there are the famous “STOP” signs – which most people seem to interpert as “slow down a bit – if you’re so inclined.” The net result of all this is that Las Vegas has at least 20 vehicular accidents a day – which the local auto repair shops appreciate. By contrast, Chicago with three times the driving population and five times the number of miles traveled by automobile drivers, has about ten accidents a week.

 The point is that most driving regulations and laws do make sense – but no matter how good those laws are, they will not be observed unless they are enforced.

 The other day I was driving with a dear friend (another Illinoisan – though from downstate) and I pointed out that she was going 10 miles over the speed limit. Her response was “there are no police around.” That justified her speeding – at least in her mind. I posed the question, “If there are no police around and you think that it’s unlikely you’ll get caught – is it okay to murder someone?” She looked at me as though I had been smoking an illegal substance. The point is – if you or I choose to ignore laws regarding speed limits, observing stop signs and using turn signals – how then do we have the right to be outraged when someone murders someone else? If we have the right to disregard traffic laws which we find “inconvenient” – then by what right do we have the nerve to fault someone else who considers the interdict against murder to be inconvenient?

 What this all boils down to is very simple. It is about taking personal responsibility and setting a standard to which others might aspire. I do not suggest this in the interest of “setting yourself up as a moral standard-bearer.” Rather, there is a simpler and more rational reason to do so. It is something that grandma understood very well. It’s just pure and simple common sense and courtesy.

 We are dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Unless you’re Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or a sports or Hollywood celeb – you’ve proably felt the pinch and strain of it all. Well, speeding while you’re driving wastes gas. And that translates into more money to the big oil companies and less for Christmas presents.

 If you’ve ever been involved in an accident – whether of your fault or the other driver’s – it’s not only a time-consuming event – but it costs you money and has potential physical consequences. Not a fun experience.

  We could cut our accident rate by 80% if we all simply followed the “Rules of the Road”. Well, of course, that is in an ideal world where everyone is rational, uses common sense and is courteous. That Earth probably only exists in an alternate universe. But if each person who reads this entry takes personal responsibility for her own driving, we can start a movement and teach by example. Things aren’t going to change by next Tuesday – but at least we can make a start. And doing so will help the consumer leave more money in his pocket and spend less at the pump – and in that way we can help the economy (both personally and the country’s) start heading in the right direction.

 Your friend, hoping you have a more pleasant and courteous driving experience,

 

Juwanna

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

On Laws and Courtesy

 

When I started college in the mid-60’s, I moved from New York City to Chicago. Frankly, it felt to me as though I had moved 900 miles and two centuries. In many ways, Chicago was still the pioneer prairie town – though at that time it still held sway as America’s second largest city as measured by population.

 

It was in Chicago that I discovered the existence of “blue laws”. These were legislative enactments that probably had some value when they were first passed – but the tradition of keeping them on the books had far outweighed their usefulness.

 

Allow me to cite a few examples:

 

You couldn’t get a haircut on Mondays. That was something that the barber’s union had accomplished. How this benefited the barbers wasn’t then and isn’t now clear to me – but if it was Monday, you couldn’t get your locks shorn.

 

You couldn’t buy meat after 7:00 p.m. Yes, there it was, sitting in the case (which was covered with heavy plastic wrap) but it was illegal for the store to let you pick it up and check out with it. This was something that the butcher’s union had achieved. How this benefited the butchers was a mystery to me then and is still today.

 

But, of course, the grandaddy of all the blue laws was that “on days when members of the General Assembly stood for election, during the time the polls were open, it was illegal to purchase liquor – either at a liquor store, a restaurant or bar.” As I became more familiar with Illinois politics, the absolute absurdity of this law made me laugh. When you considered the old political hacks who were constantly re-elected to the General Assembly, the only way a person of insight and conscience could possibly consider voting for them was if he or she were totally inebriated!

 

Well, those were a few of the blue laws which I encountered. I’m sure that throughout the various states, there are many that are equally absurd that are still on the books.

 

Nonetheless, there are some laws which have been passed which make a great deal of sense – at least to me. Let’s consider some of those – as they relate to driving.

 

Growing up in Manhattan, I wasn’t even eligible to get a driving learner’s permit until I was 17. And at 17 I had moved to Chicago for school. Dad had sold the car years before, tired of spending an hour a night looking for a legal space to park. (Manhattan had alternate side of the street parking – presumably to allow for street cleaning – so moving the car every other night was an evening ritual when my father came home from work).

So I was 20 when I enrolled in a driving school and learned to drive.

 

Both my instructor and the official Illinois DMV “Rules of the Road” publication mentioned one thing over and over. “Driving is a privilige – not a right.” As a result, I was constantly reminded to stay within the posted speed limit, to use my mirrors to make sure that it was safe to change lanes and always to indicate that intention by either using hand signals (which were common in those days) or using the vehicle’s turn signal indicators. Those were good rules – or “laws” if you will – which I still observe today.

 

The result – I have never been ticketed for speeding and have never been at fault in an accident. To me, staying within the speed limit and signaling lane changes is part of enjoying my “driving privilige”. Would that it were so with other drivers!

 

For the last several years I have insured my car with Progressive. (You know Flo). I enrolled in their “My Rate” program – intended to reward drivers who utilize their vehicles in a safe manner. The program is completely voluntary – but I felt confident that I could receive a rate reduction by participating. And I did earn their maximum 25% discount.

 

Now consider this. My discount is based on my performance relative only to those other drivers who are participating in the program – not the general population of drivers. In other words, my performance is being compared only to drivers who also feel that they are entitled to a discount based on what they perceive their driving performance to be. The fact is that if the entire population were compelled to have their driving evaluated – I truly believe that I would (and should) be paying less than 25% of my current insurance cost – and drivers who drive in an irresponsible manner would be paying two or three times the amount they are currently being charged.

 

If you want to see an encapsulation of bad driving – come to Las Vegas! When I lived in Chicago, everyone knew that that the city derived a significant amount of income from issuing traffic violations. It was a part of Chicago’s annual budget. But enforcement of the traffic laws – though sometimes abused by the police – made us conscious of the fact that those laws were there and a penalty would be paid for violating them. The net result was that we reduced the number of accidents and fatalities and enjoyed fairly low auto insurance premiums.

 

In Las Vegas there is very little enforcement of traffic regulations – despite the fact that we have one of the highest paid police forces in the country. (One can only wonder what they do with their time since there are only a handful of Dunkin Donuts in the city).

 

There seems – perhaps because of the educational system – to be some confusion about the meaning of the term “speed limit”. Most drivers apparently confuse “limit” with “suggested minimum”. If motorists are aware of the fact that their vehicles are equipped with turn signals they respond in one of two manners. First, they ignore the fact and never use them. Second, they turn them on and leave them on with the idea that at some point in the next several days, they may be turning in that direction. And, of course, there are the famous “STOP” signs – which most people seem to interpert as “slow down a bit – if you’re so inclined.” The net result of all this is that Las Vegas has at least 20 vehicular accidents a day – which the local auto repair shops appreciate. By contrast, Chicago with three times the driving population and five times the number of miles traveled by automobile drivers, has about ten accidents a week.

 

The point is that most driving regulations and laws do make sense – but no matter how good those laws are, they will not be observed unless they are enforced.

 

The other day I was driving with a dear friend (another Illinoisan – though from downstate) and I pointed out that she was going 10 miles over the speed limit. Her response was “there are no police around.” That justified her speeding – at least in her mind. I posed the question, “If there are no police around and you think that it’s unlikely you’ll get caught – is it okay to murder someone?” She looked at me as though I had been smoking an illegal substance. The point is – if you or I choose to ignore laws regarding speed limits, observing stop signs and using turn signals – how then do we have the right to be outraged when someone murders someone else? If we have the right to disregard traffic laws which we find “inconvenient” – then by what right do we have the nerve to fault someone else who considers the interdict against murder to be inconvenient?

 

What this all boils down to is very simple. It is about taking personal responsibility and setting a standard to which others might aspire. I do not suggest this in the interest of “setting yourself up as a moral standard-bearer.” Rather, there is a simpler and more rational reason to do so. It is something that grandma understood very well. It’s just pure and simple common sense and courtesy.

 

We are dealing with the worst economy since the Great Depression. Unless you’re Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or a sports or Hollywood celeb – you’ve proably felt the pinch and strain of it all. Well, speeding while you’re driving wastes gas. And that translates into more money to the big oil companies and less for Christmas presents.

 

If you’ve ever been involved in an accident – whether of your fault or the other driver’s – it’s not only a time-consuming event – but it costs you money and has potential physical consequences. Not a fun experience.

 

 

We could cut our accident rate by 80% if we all simply followed the “Rules of the Road”. Well, of course, that is in an ideal world where everyone is rational, uses common sense and is courteous. That Earth probably only exists in an alternate universe. But if each person who reads this entry takes personal responsibility for her own driving, we can start a movement and teach by example. Things aren’t going to change by next Tuesday – but at least we can make a start. And doing so will help the consumer leave more money in his pocket and spend less at the pump – and in that way we can help the economy (both personally and the country’s) start heading in the right direction.

 

Yours friend, hoping you have a more pleasant and courteous driving experience,

 

Juwanna

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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